The Indian Railways has now been asked to earmark half of its hospital beds across India for COVID-19 patients, out of which one-third will have to be fitted with ventilators.
This will translate into around 6,500 beds, including nearly 2,000 with ventilators, it is learnt.
Based on the kind of scale indicated to it, the Railways on Monday sounded out its zonal units that it may need to convert up to 20,000 coaches into isolation units in coming days and issued orders to start with converting 5,000 coaches.
With the progress of its own production units towards making ventilators as yet uncertain, the Railways has been asked to explore ways to let ventilator manufacturers use its factories to ramp up production numbers. “We are looking at collaboration,” a source said.
Necessary instructions for this were issued Monday from the Railway Ministry.
The Railways has 13,000 beds in its 125 hospitals across India, including in remote locations. It is now in the process of deciding whether to dedicate some 60-70 strategically located railway hospitals entirely for COVID-19 patients, or to keep certain key hospitals in “dual mode”, with dedicated entry points and exclusive wings and blocks for coronavirus patients.
While Railways is in the process of procuring more ventilators, it is, however, nowhere near the required number of some 2,000 ventilators that are expected to be required for COVID-19 patients in coming days. It currently has around 100 ventilators.
The Railways has decided to procure from multiple sources, as also seek the help of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the nodal agency. “This is part of decisions taken at high-level meetings in the government,” a source told The Indian Express.
The national transporter was already on way to turning coaches into isolation wards, and the numbers need to be higher and much faster, the Railways have decided. “Railways may be required to convert up to 20,000 such coaches, with 5,000 coaches to be converted initially into quarantine/isolation units,” according to a letter from the Railway Board to its zonal units and factories on Monday.
The Indian Express had on March 23 reported that plans to turn railway coaches into isolation units were afoot.
This is over and above the mass production of personal protective equipment (PPE) that the Railways has initiated in all its units, putting to use its entire industrial capability.
The national transporter has already given a go-ahead to zonal heads to explore the possibility of hiring doctors and paramedics from the market, and also to re-employ retired railway doctors as a temporary measure to meet the increased requirement of medical supervision and assist the authorities in charge of COVID-19 control management in the region.
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